1. Limited time only! Sign up for a free 30min personal tutor trial with Chegg Tutors
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Studying Career, def. of studying hard, knowledge gaps etc.

  1. Jan 27, 2012 #1


    User Avatar

    Hello all,

    Firstly, sorry for the long post, I was just wondering if someone is in a similar position and would like to hear their thoughts and how they deal with certain things. If it is too long, just skip to the questions I have under each paragraph.

    I was never spending much time studying. Both in school and in university I used to waste a lot of time by either reading about unrelated stuff or just finding an excuse not to study. I managed to learn the material by solving many problems in the last few days/weeks before the tests/exams. This worked well in school and my first year, in my second year it did not go as well, but not too bad. However, my third year is a different game. I spend studying much more time, however, I start to notice knowledge gaps creeping in, and the worst thing is, that these are usually small tricks or rules which come more from a specific knowledge about that trick. The other problem I have is that understanding does not come as fast as it used to, I do not see connections between the courses anymore (however, doing a joint degree destroys the normal program one would do in a single degree program).

    So questions for now :
    1) Do you often encounter gaps in your knowledge ? Is it easy for you to deal with them ?
    2) Do you easily make connections between the courses ?

    Recently, thoughts of whether I made the right decision to study physics/maths was a good one, have been visiting me. When I was at school I was rather naive and getting good grades made me feel that I would be OK for the subject. When I learnt about fusion energy it motivated me to study physics even more (should have checked, that that field needs engineers more than physicists...). Back then I simply viewed everything through pink glasses (my physics teacher only decided to tell me it is going to be hard and some subjects will be understandable only for the lucky few, only after I started uni...). The fact that I was not that good at physics/maths olympiads did not bother me (now I think that people who really want to do science, should be good at those).
    I am starting to encounter concepts which even with the explanation of a lecturer in his office hours, I do not get it. I am not used to not understanding stuff quickly so it is very frustrating.

    3) Have you ever thought, that it was a bad idea to do science and you should have gone into some more simple subject that would be directly applicable in a field where, say, making money is the priority ?
    4) Are there any concepts you simply cannot understand in your course ? Does it eventually click ?

    To me it always seemed (and still does) that being a scientist/mathematician is one of the few meaningful career paths. However, now I am thinking that this should be left for the really talented ones, as I do not believe that hard work is all you need(the talented ones will get the concepts a lot easier and with putting in a lot less time, hence will have more time for exploring the subject further and faster), but maybe I do not understand what working hard means ? I view it as spending hours by reading the material carefully and trying to understand what the text is saying, then applying it to problems(ideally at least). I have read many "How to study" guides, but seem do not find an effective way to learn stuff fast.

    5) How do you define studying hard ? How do you do it ?
    6) Can you easily solve problems that are very different to what you have ever seen before ?
    7) What is your usual approach in dealing with such problems (I usually end up googling rather then thinking about it)

    Since I do not feel fit for being a scientist I was thinking of doing some engineering masters, however, maybe to challenging there as well, so I think that the best way to go would be to try and end up in some finance-actuarial-other care for money only 9-5 office job. Physics/maths did provide me skills that such employers usually look for.

    8) Did anyone switch to engineering after a physics/maths degree ? How did it go ?
    9) Are you strongly considering pursuing a directly science unrelated career ?

    So thanks for reading this. I would really appreciate any answers to the questions I have or just your general thoughts on the matter.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 27, 2012 #2


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    Hey Leb and welcome to the forums.

    For 1) absolutely. The best way to fill the gaps is to keep at something, keep an open mind, and be aware of what other people have to say. One way I do this is visit these forums and look at questions and answers that people have. I read other sources like other websites, textbooks, youtube videos and so on, but its a good idea to use a resource like PF. You will see a lot of questions posted and you will see a lot of great responses that give a lot of insight, a new perspective, and a way to fill the gaps.

    For 2) yes but it comes at the cost of constant thinking and attention. Also I reflect on the work that I have done in the past which is computer programming and I use past knowledge to build bridges between things. I consider that everything is an additive process for life in general and if you look at things in an isolated way, it won't help you make those critical connections.

    For 3) I am doing mathematics and not science per se so I can't say for science. But I have absolutely no regrets for doing mathematics and I am not concerned about making a lot of money. I have always been interested in trying to make sense of the world in whatever way I can and mathematics is the best way that I can do that.

    Having said the above I also think its important to not limit yourself to just one thing. Sometimes you find that if you pay attention to other things that they help you in unimaginable ways. Again this has to do with seeing the world in an isolated way and understanding doesn't come from only one or two sources in one or two fields.

    The truth is that there are lots and lots of ways to make money. Some people say that some are riskier than others based on probabilities, anecdotes or some other measure but the truth is you can make money in many different ways. The thing though that matters is that you stick at something long enough and become good at it.

    Also if you want to make money it makes more sense to do something that benefits lots of people than versus something that does not. Millions of people use Google every day and many millions of people use personal computers with Windows on it. These two have humongous economies of scale and its not surprising that they are huge companies.

    My advice to you is if you want to start a business then solve a problem of some sort. You could do what some do and "resolve a problem" (create a business that fills a known need in a known way), but the thing is there are a lot of problems in the world that have not been solved and people will give you their money if you can solve them.

    Also when I say problem I don't mean a science problem (although it may involve that): I mean something that some large group of people face day to day.

    For 4) Yes and Yes. There are things that I understand in parts but not completely and I still haven't connected the dots on many things. But thats just an attribute of life! I think it would be boring if we understood everything and had everything given to us right away... there would be nothing to do!

    But yeah it does get easier in my experience. Weird things happen and suddenly out of nowhere things slowly make sense.

    Also for understanding again I can't stress this enough you could either talk to other people or read forums like this one (or do both). These things contains lots and lots of clues and if you open your awareness up to this kind of thing it can help immensely.

    5) It depends what you call studying.

    I like what I am doing (thankfully) but I find some things pretty dull and not so interesting (I think we all do though). But the important thing is to maintain an attitude that is positive. This isn't just for study though, it is a template for life. There are a lot of lessons that we need to learn and being willing to learn anything that you can is a good thing to do.

    Being willfully ignorant some of the time does not mean you are not ignorant. Many life lessons have helped me come to this conclusion.

    6) Sometimes yes many times no. If I haven't had any kind of association with the concepts of a particular field then chances are no. However when I say association what I mean by that is basically that I have a) never encountered a situation, concept, thought, or definition or prior experience that I can relate to that relates to what is being asked and b) I am unfamiliar with the descriptive characteristics of the question (i.e. the language, symbols)

    The thing is that you are able to draw on past experiences and in the right context, can answer questions that draw upon those experiences where there are connections between them.

    Its the same as being able to comprehend a few examples of a sentence that are worded differently but still mean the same thing.

    7) It depends on the problem. Some problems have to be put aside for later. But if for example I had a problem with some amount of urgency like an assignment or if I had to do a work related activity then I would do what I had to do get it done. If I was at work and I had a problem that I didn't know how to solve after some level of time I would seek assistance. But before that you have access to many things and its a wise thing to try those.

    Also in the past I have learned what its like to try and be proud while not asking for help and it was a valuable lesson that I aim to remember.

    8) Can't answer this one.

    9) I am on a path to become a statistician although I am taking a lot of other subjects that aren't related (or particularly useful) in statistics.

    There is no reason why you can't do different things. Many people make career changes nowadays and it is becoming somewhat of a norm.

    Don't think that you are bound to your past in a way that you need some kind of vocational training for everything you do.

    Things always build on things that become before them. Experiences are not mutually exclusive, they all interact to generate much more than they could in isolation.
  4. Jan 27, 2012 #3


    User Avatar

    Thank you for your reply chiro !

    Just to make this clear - I do not really have a desire to make lots of money. I would rather work as a physicist/engineer and earn an average amount working on something that is interesting and beneficial (or in the case of fusion energy, beneficial for the future) rather then "sell my soul" to some giant company which only cares about money. But as I said, I do not think I have what it takes, and I am way past the age of having false hopes, and want to see what I should do now.

    I just wonder, how many people who went into the field of science/mathematics (in terms of having finished their PhD and embarked on a career as a physicist/mathematician ?)
  5. Jan 27, 2012 #4


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    It is important to be realistic no doubt.

    All you have to do is read the threads here about people who haven't found related jobs after their PhD or the constant posts about not being able to get jobs in Academia: the list goes on.

    In terms of people that are active physicists/scientists/mathematicians you have come to the right place :). Quite a few people here are working in that capacity and if you browse you'll find a wealth of information from people that do this for a living.

    If you are curious ZapperZ wrote a piece on becoming a physicist and there are threads for becoming mathematicians and engineers so if you want some detailed discussion with advice from people that work in that capacity and have gone through the training (degree, masters, PhD) then that will give you more insight.
  6. Jan 27, 2012 #5


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Interesting questions...I will speak from an electrical engineering point of view....just random comments and thoughts.

    1.Gaps in knowledge....heck yes. Nobody and I mean nobody knows everything.

    2. Connections between courses were clear.......the big picture is ideal. Without the big picture...what do you have?

    3. I chose engineering because it is challenging and makes reasonable money.

    4. There are many things I took in school that I didnt' understand. I never truly learned them and I never will. Good examples are signal processing, communications, the last chapter of chemistry freshmen year...lol....mesh analysis I hate...etc. Since school....no one has asked me about these things....so I can certainly live without them.

    5. What is studying hard? Simple....imerse yourself in the subject. Dont just dip in your toes or go knee deep....jump in all the way. Study 10 hours a day. Study the subject so well that you can teach it to your fellow students. You also state that your not in it for the money but the love of the subject. You above all else should be the one studying more than anyone. You know the old statements...."you get out of it what you put into it"....and "when you cheat, you are only cheating yourself"...in other words when you study less than you max capacity...you just cheated yourself.

    6. Can you easily solve problems that are different? I don't know about easily...but with hard work an effort I can solve them. The point of college isn't so much the learning....but more the ability to learn how to learn. When you get to your real world job all you will see are things you are not familiar with. Your problem solving skills are what you should be all about. Develop your mind....don't go the easy route. The easy route will lead to failure in the future. "pay me now....or pay me later".

    7. Googling? Ugh. Terrible approach. You want someone else to do your thinking. No good...no good.

    8. Anyone who switches to engineering after physics and math will do fine with maximum effort. Again....laziness breeds crappola. Accell and be a winner.

    9. This question is non-applicable to me.

    Hope this helps. Of all the things I said....the most important thing is this:

    "you get out of it...what you put into it". And that goes for anything in life.

    Good luck.
    Last edited: Jan 27, 2012
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook